I first heard Sampha’s “who IS this?!” talents on this very blog, back in 2014, on “Wonder Where We Land?”. It wasn’t an album I really thought was my thing, and even on fifth listen, let alone first, it felt too odd, too patchwork, to take hold. But it did, and it was the incredible “Gon Stay” that pulled me in. But that, despite coming back to the album over the next two years, was all I encountered of the South Londoner until now. Having encountered “Process”, I feel a little foolish for this now.
But if it’s a debut album that’s taken a while to land, then it’s every bit the reward for being teased out. And while it’s a cliche, it’s more than just about the music here, as mesmerising as it is. These days we crave ‘story’, but the tale behind a work for an artist that’s worked with the likes of Drake, Solange, Frank Ocean and Kanye is one worth touching on, because it frames the album like an unseen assistant, a shadow over the lyrics and music that can’t be ignored. The Morden resident was a nascent musician as a child, but his adult life has been pockmarked by tragedy, his existence moving from single parent – his father Joe died of lung cancer in 1998 – to orphaned son, as his mother passed away from the same disease in 2015 in between his second EP and the album’s release.
It’s easy to talk of emotion and candour in music, such is the ubiquity of artists on social media, baring their souls (in 140 characters at a time) but Process feels exactly as that single word befits: a young man coming to terms with his place in the world as he comes to terms with love, life and loss in modern, isolating city life. His own health scares also sit behind the words of the record, and time and again the emotions are front and centre, with that incredible voice not slotting into others’ productions, but acting as another instrument in itself, and sounding the most powerful and piercing that it has yet. “Blood On Me” is a beautiful record, its staccato beats echoing modern hip-hop, but the piano’s chords carry punch, and the words speak of a man spinning close to the edge of control.
In fact, the feeling is one of boundary-free music, with Sampha’s soul pouring out unrestrained, even as the clever time signatures of “Kora Sings” or the simple arrangements of “Take Me Inside” cascade into multi-tracked synth and vox like a burst of of colour, despite the darkness of many of the lyrics. The pace may often be slow, but the energy and heft is always there, and even at first listen it’s a beguiling proposition. And for all the tales of suffering and anguish, the truth is that beneath all of it is a hugely talented musician.
The reviews are stellar, because the album has all the makings of a modern classic. A man whose career has been stop-start, halted by tragic episodes that may be the making of him. From all the heartache often comes the best music, and this is a stunning piece of work from a new British artist we should cherish.
Funny how an artist can make something that doesn’t grab you, and then make something else that isn’t so different – and it blows you away.
I *liked* the first album – or rather, I *loved* the singles and another track or two, and I thought the rest of it was a little undercooked. I expected this album to be a re-run of that experience – I *love* the Ezra Koenig tune and the Sampha single, and on first listen, I had a feeling of deja vu. Nice, inventive, soulful, but downbeat and – yup, maybe a little undercooked.
Wow, was I wrong? Every single time I played the album, it opened up a little more. Until I couldn’t stop playing it, and the songs started ringing round my brain even when I wasn’t listening to them.
This record is such a huge step forward from his debut. He was always clearly insanely talented, but he’s honed that talent very quickly, and this genuinely feels like an artist firing on all cylinders. And like all musicians of any note, he seems to create a sound that makes you wonder where the fuck it even came from.
What I like about it is that he doesn’t feel like a guy immersed in some hipster culture or trying to create something to do with fashion. It is *soul* music in the broadest sense. I knew nothing about the guy until I read this interview:
– and it really informed my listening of this album. He does sound like an outsider, someone who’s willing to try anything out and see where it leads. A song like Look Away, featuring the Chairlift singer, could easily come across as repetitive or moribund – instead it feels insistent and melancholy. Higher, the Raury track, feels a bit like a slap in the face the first few times you hear it, coming as it does quite early in the tracklist. But again, it became something quite different after a few listens. He sure as hell knows how to get the best of Jessie Ware, an artist I *really* like but who can easily drift a little into bland territory without the right material. Best of all is the album’s closer, Voices in My Head, a terrifyingly real drug psychosis song delivered with paranoid genius by ASAP Ferg. Again, you struggle to imagine how a collaboration like that came about. And then I read this:
And this kind of sums up what I love about this. He’s a collaborator – a proper one, who can bring out the best in everyone he works with – but one who at the same time has a complete musical vision.
This, Brothers, is undoubtedly one of my albums of the year. I look forward to your thoughts.
Early signs are looking good for the new SBTRKT album.